Nigeria’s jihadist group Boko Haram has forced nearly one million children to flee their homes and killed hundreds more, according to a new UN report.
“More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes due to the violence. This includes 1.2 million displaced inside Nigeria and around 200,000 who have crossed into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger after their villages were attacked or threatened,” reports the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “The number of children forced from their homes has more than doubled in the past year, reaching 800,000 children.”
That means that children make up more than half of the estimated 1.5 million who have been forced to flee their home.
“The vast majority of the displaced [children]– more than 880,000 – are staying with host communities with little access to humanitarian support, putting additional strains on already stretched health, education and social services,” adds the report.
Nigerian security forces and armed civilian groups have been combating Boko Haram terrorists in northeast Nigeria, a conflict that has escalated into a humanitarian crisis.
Boko Haram is deliberately targeting children, subjecting them to “extreme violence – from sexual abuse and forced marriage to kidnappings and brutal killings,” declares UNICEF.
“Children have also become weapons, made to fight alongside armed groups and at times used as human bombs, including a case of young girl sent to her death with a bomb strapped to her chest in Maiduguri,” it adds.
According to the UN, at least 15,000 people have been killed since 2009 as a result of Boko Haram-related violence.
More than 7,300 were killed in 2014 alone and so far this year at least 1,000 civilians have fallen victim to the jihadist group’s brutality.
“Countless numbers of children, women and men have been abducted, abused and forcibly recruited, and women and girls have been targeted for particularly horrific abuse, including sexual enslavement,” mentions the UN report. “Villages and towns have been looted and destroyed. Schools have been attacked. The conflict is exacting a heavy toll on children, affecting not just their well-being and their safety but also their access to basic health, education and social services.”
The report reveals that the number of children absent from primary school in Nigeria has increased to 10.5 million, the highest figure in the world, from 8 million in 2007.
Boko Haram has severely damaged more than 300 schools, killing at least 314 students and 196 teachers in the period between January 2012 and December 2014, says UNICEF.
The name for the Nigeria-based Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, means “Western education is forbidden” or sinful.
UNICEF released the report, titled “Missing Childhoods” ahead of the one year anniversary of the mass kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok on the night of April 14-15, 2014.
Although dozens have escaped, 219 girls remain missing.
Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to its brutal counterpart the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). ISIS has accepted the pledge.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.